Students and tutors at the Boat Building Academy are to launch a record twelve boat building projects by the September 2010 group on June 7th.
The event details are available here and the BBA folks would like to invite everyone to join us in the celebrations. With 18 days to go, principal Yvonne Green says the workshops have never been busier – every spare inch of space seems to be occupied by a boat or a bit of a boat. Yvonne adds that while the students (and staff) will probably be shattered by launch day, the boats will be glorious. Paul Gartside-designed 12ft traditional clinker dinghy, built in larch and oak with a grown stem and knees. Spitzl classic German 4.4m lake rowing boat, built traditionally in clinker mahogany on oak.
Diamond Half Rater originally designed by Charles Sibbick in 1897 6.5m long, it is a replica created on the lofting room floor from photographs, a couple of similar lines plans and the only other existing replica Half Rater from another (American) designer that is owned by Rees Martin, a great friend of the Academy. Have you got news for us?If what you're doing is like the things you read about here - please write and tell us what you're up to. Classic Sailor is a new magazine about traditional and classic boats from ex-Classic Boat editor Dan Houston and colleagues that promises rather more coverage of the traditional craft around our coast. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Follow me on TwitterLooking for something?This is a busy weblog, and what you're looking for is probably still here - just a little way down the list now. Our Faversham-based friend Alan Thorne can help with boatbuilding projects - constructing to plans in very tidy stitch-and-glue or more traditional techniques.
Boat builder Jonathan Palmer has won a first prize in the traditional maritime skills in action section of a photographic competition sponsored by National Historic Ships and Classic Boat magazine.
Jon’s winning photograph (above) was taken in May at the Boat Building Academy workshops where he has been a student.
Titled Beer Lugger 2010, the photograph from the building of the new Beer boat Steadfast by students on Jon’s course.
The prizes were awarded at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich – after the ceremony Jon apparently enjoyed a game of croquet and a very civilised afternoon tea.
Jon’s photo can also be seen in the November issue of Classic Boat or on the National Historic Ships website. A revival commenced in the 1970s, by those with a reverence and appreciation for maritime heritage, tradition and aesthetics, and traditional wooden boat building has at last found a home in the modern world. However, whilst there is still a welcome demand for wooden boats and oars, the skills unique to wooden boat building and maintenance are under threat as they are known to a small, and aging, band of experts; the number of which is reducing each year as retirement looms. Firstly, for readers that aren’t familiar with the Boat Building Academy, can you explain what you do? Launches take place in June and December against the backdrop of Lyme Regis Harbour and The Cobb and are attended by friends, family, graduates, potential employers and others from all areas of the marine industry.
Generally traditional wooden boat building involves wooden planks, split or cut from logs, either overlapped and fixed with nails or screws (clinker construction) or fastened edge to edge (carvel construction) around a backbone structure from sawn or bent timber.
Modern construction methods do not call for such accurate attention to planking and joints, especially where there is no aesthetic impact, because adhesives, particularly epoxies, have good gap-filling capabilities. Technology, mainly in the form of CAD and CNC machines, benefits both modern and traditional construction types in the making of jigs and moulds and is particularly useful in terms of stitch and glue construction. Traditional wooden boat building calls for craftsmanship, modern wooden boat building is less demanding in terms of skill levels and quicker, which has obvious commercial advantages.
Do you still teach traditional woodworking skills and techniques or is the emphasis on using modern tools and technologies and applying them to traditional boat designs? The modern method of producing curved timber sections is laminating, but it is quite wasteful and uses a lot of adhesive. Traditional boat building went through a revival in the 1970s, and is going through a further renaissance with the popularity of Cornish pilot gig racing.
In a world in which custom design is increasingly valued wood is far and away the best medium to produce one off custom craft. What is the main difference between sailing a wooden boat and modern fibreglass equivalent? In class racing older wooden versions tend to be slower than modern plastic boats as the sailing rigs can set that bit tighter and therefore generate more power resulting in more speed. Generally speaking modern fibreglass versions of classics are going to be faster than traditionally built wooden hulls. Sailing or rowing a traditionally built wooden hull is very different from an outing in a fibreglass equivalent.
The next stage, if building a traditional clinker (overlapping planks secured with copper nails) boat is to set up the building frame, starting with a keel bearer, usually a long beam set up just above floor level and underneath an overhead beam. The building moulds, produced earlier from the lofting, would then be set up in their positions along the backbone. The next step is to “line-off” for planking, that is to determine where the plank edges will be, based on the determined number of planks for the boat. Depending on the type of timber used and the length of the hull and planking stock, each plank may need to be lengthened using a traditional joint called a “scarf” or “scarph”.
At either end, a special bevel called a “gerald” is used, although this name varies by region and country. Normally these ribs are from fresh sawn oak, but other types of oak or timber can be successfully used.
The final structural elements are then be added, such as knees and a “breast hook”, in the stern quarters and bow. Longitudinal members like the gunwales and rubbing strips are then added, these are usually inside the planking at the sheer level, over the ribs and outside the planking at the sheer or along the bottom part of the sheer plank.
One might choose to fit “sole boards” which are boards which are used in the bottom or “bilge” of the boat so that one does not stand directly onto the planking when using the boat.
Once satisfied, a blank is made up, this usually constructed or laminated, from a number of pieces of timber.
The “cheeks” as these blocks are called should be glued on opposite sides of the end of the loom with their ends aligned with its end.  The next stage would be to shape the blade. Now one must complete the shape of the blade usually from experience or using another oar as a guide with tools such as a draw knife, spokeshave and “bollow plane”.
Bollow planes are planes that have soles which curve in two planes and allow the plane to scoop out hollows.
Once this is completed and it must be accurately done for the finished items to be truly round, the faces are remarked, this time with the aim of turning the eight sides into sixteen. Now one needs to have some patience and careful plane the loom both along its length and around its circumference, although generally working in quarters, with an almost diagonal motion, but trying to keep the plane facing along the length of the loom, to avoid taking too much material from localised areas.  The more care is employed here, the better the final result. Often the actual design can be down to personal choice, but the diameter is reduced to permit the oar to be handled comfortably.
Now one can finish the oar with abrasives to a good smooth finish, removing any final lumps and bumps.
What type of wood is used in the making of a wooden boat and oars and why, and where do you source it from?


Timber used at the Boat Building Academy comes from a variety of certified sources or sources that are working towards certification.
Is there a ‘typical’ profile of student that attends the Academy, or do they come from all walks of life, ages and locations?
You’re based in Lyme Regis, in the West Country, an area renowned for its traditional boats.
Typically, what are the goals that your students when they finish the course, is it to find paid employment in a boatyard or set up their own business, and are there the jobs out there for students once they complete the course? Yes, for example Ian Thomson, who joined the course in September 2007, developed an alternative to inflatable tenders while he was on the course.  The first ‘Nestaway’ was launched in 2008 at the end of the course and Ian has gone on to develop and build a range of Nestaways, the latest of which ‘Trio 16’ is a family dayboat that breaks down into three nesting sections measuring just 7 foot. A recent graduate, Mark Bestford, was asked to give a presentation to Prince Charles at St James’s Palace, about his company ‘Boatwork Ltd’ and how he had developed a new career over the age of fifty.    Our prospectus has details of other people, including the classic car restorer, who trained at the Academy in order to start up their own business. A difficult question to answer in terms of traditional boat building.  I think the question is rather what is the future of wooden boat building in the UK?  We have an excellent reputation for teaching traditional wooden boat building skills, but we place equal importance on modern wooden boat building and composites in order to enhance our students’ employment prospects. Yvonne Green would like to thank Paul Dyer, the Boat Building Academy’s Training Manager and Nick Newland, Chair of the Wooden Boatbuilders’ Trade Association, for contributing their perspective and expertise in order to fully answer some of the questions. To learn more about traditional or modern wooden boat building, or general woodworking, the Boat Building Academy runs a range of taster, ‘short’ and ‘long’ courses throughout the year.
The Boat Building Academy’s class of March 2013 have been good all year so the sun shone brightly when they launched their eight newly built boats built during their course into Lyme Regis harbour on 9 December. Colin Henwood watched as his newest employee, Brian Reford, sped across the bay in his new speedboat. Tim Gedge, Director of the Academy, said a few words, as did Sally Holman, Mayor of Lyme Regis. Toby Williamson’s 15ft modified Hiawatha canoe is strip planked in western red cedar, sheathed with glass fibre and epoxy. Toby, the youngest member of the class, decided that sixth form and A levels weren’t for him.
The BBA folks report that Toby says he has loved every minute of the course, and that it is a shame to have to leave – but he is looking forward to taking his new skills around the world.
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He caught the boat on camera as it was awaiting the frenzied process of hot nailing, in which copper nails are quickly hammered into freshly steamed timber ribs and riveted into place. He says he will spend the prize money on tools for LP Boatworks, a company that he and fellow Boat Building Academy graduate Ben Larcombe have set up in Colyton, Devon. However rapid advances in technology meant the look of marinas changed, with plastic and fibreglass boats dominating the scene, and wooden boat appreciation and production declining greatly throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. Without action, it is only a matter of time before these traditional skills, which go back millennia, will become extinct in Britain; which is unthinkable for a country with such a strong maritime history.
Students learn a wide range of boat building skills, working across traditional and modern wooden construction types and composites.  92% of their time is spent in the workshops and they have the opportunity to work on at evenings and weekends. Boat building as an industry in the United Kingdom had declined to such an extent that in some places it had almost entirely disappeared. In the past timber was locally sourced and therefore home-grown species, such as elm or oak in this country, were used.  The Boat Building Academy has moved back over recent years to use as much locally sourced timber as possible. Cold moulded construction builds up layers of veneers using adhesives to produce a strong laminated hull form.
In a commercial environment, time is money so the use of traditional tools is usually reserved for specialist tasks or where hand finishing is desirable or required as there is no alternative. Steaming solid timber is still a useful method of doing the same, although the results are not always as consistent. Why do you think wooden boats are still relevant in the modern world and who do you see as the main purchasers of wooden boats today?
Working with a builder to realise an idea is an enjoyable process and usually leads to long association between the owner and the builder which contributes to pride of ownership.
An old wooden boat that has taken up moisture into the planking will be heavy which will affect performance, but equally a cheap plastic boat could be heavy from the outset or through damage absorb water into its hull increasing its weight and slowing it down. However, modern wooden versions can be made faster than the older plastic versions by combining timber with modern adhesives and materials. However it is possible though to build a modern wood composite vessel that could be just as effective.
The sounds and the general feel of the boat are very different and to many minds infinitely more enjoyable. During ‘lofting’ we then produce a full sized drawing of the boat, before making templates and moulds around and with which the boats will be built.  Choices are made on timber type and a cutting list produced for our Machinist.
Onto this the keel, stem and transom parts of the boat will be built and form the central backbone structure. These moulds are temporary and are used to form the planking shape as the boat is being built only. Based on the number of planks per side, marks are made on the moulds are pre-determined positions. Each plank must be carefully fitted to the previous as usually no bedding or sealant is used between the planks.
This bevel serves to remove the plank overlap and brings the edges of the plank ends flush into the centreline. The final plank is referred to as the “sheer” plank, the sheer being the line which is formed by the top edge of the planking. Usually we would now steam in “ribs” which are narrow strips that serve to reinforce the planking, which is currently only edge fastened. The ribs are placed in a long box or pipe, usually with one or two wall paper steamers attached to either end. Onto these “stretchers” may also be fitted for bracing ones feet whilst pulling, sculling or rowing, depending on the vessel type. A number of coats would be applied to achieve the required build and level of finish that would protect the vessel and its structure from wear and tear and environmental factors, such as moisture and UV damage. This is usually determined by the vessel width or “beam” and position from which the oar would be used. Think of it as one long piece, which forms the “loom”, the shaft of the oar and runs from the handle part through almost to the tip of the blade. Only when one is completely satisfied that the loom is as round as it can possibly be, should one reach for abrasives to finish the job.
One can now apply a suitable finish, we tend to use oil for this as it is easily applied and restored, but it is best not to apply this to the handle as it can make it slippery when wet.
We work with local suppliers where possible, but quality is often an issue as locally grown timber is generally not of boat skin quality or is in shorter lengths which are not practical to work with. How much inspiration do you students and teachers take from the maritime heritage of the area? I would also like to extend my thanks to Paul and Nick, and especially Yvonne, for taking time out to answer our questions.
I feel optimistic about the future of wooden boatbuilding in the UK, at least whilst the demand continues for dinghies and sea-going rowboats.


After my visit to the BBA, I met retirees, as well as many people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and I didn’t get the impression it was geared towards youngsters. ITV cameras were there, as were Dick Phillips for Water Craft magazine, and Nigel Sharp for Yachting World.
The boats went out of the workshops at 9, marshalled by former marine sergeant and boat builder Roy Gollop, before being processed the short walk down to the harbour.
He had seen a feature on the Academy in Coast magazine, visited and decided he should go to the BBA instead. Now the course has finished his is working for two months in Holland for a boat builder before going for a season on a game fishing boat in Madeira. Located inward historic downtown Wilmington North Carolina along the Cape Fear River CFCC’s boat.
Traditional skills, that had been passed down from builder-to-builder, and father-to-son, were being lost.  Modern technologies meant mass-production, radical modern styling and less maintenance were possible, and traditional wooden boat building was caught up in a perfect storm.
Glued clinker construction uses plywood planks, producing a very similar hull to a traditional clinker hull, but exchanging copper rivets holding the planks together for adhesives like polyurethanes or epoxies.  In stitch and glue construction shaped plywood panels are stitched and glued together to form the hull, which is then covered in glass fibre and epoxy. Modern tools such as circular saws, jigsaws, routers, mortising machines and power planes save a lot of time and effort, but there are still many tasks where traditional tools are used as they are the best tool for the job. Traditionally they might have been split from the log by hand or pit-sawn and then hand planed to their final dimension. Generally, the type of timber being used, where the part will be used and the overall look of the finished product will be a consideration in selection of technique. The moulds must be accurately set up, plumb and square usually in relation to the boats designed waterline which acts as a reference during the build.
Initially the previous plank will be “browed-off”, that is a bevel will be made along its length that will allow the following plank to sit tightly onto it. The final shape of the sheer is then worked, usually with the aid of a batten and by eye to determine the most favourable shape and curve. Holes would be pre-drilled in the planking at intervals along the length of the hull, although at the same point on each plank, across the width of the hull. The thwarts themselves serve to hold the two sides of the boat together and at the same time, apart. At this point the fittings may be added, be that “pins”, “oarlocks”, “rowlocks” or just eye-bolts for attaching “painters”.
Shape of “blade” must also be decided and to some degree this is down to personal choice, although one could opt for a traditional oar for the hull type.
This may be of good quality fir or spruce of say 2” square and should have straight grain and as few knots or blemishes as possible. At this point, it is generally possible to skim off the corners by eye to take the loom to thirty two sides. Spruce or fir is used for masts and spars as comes in long lengths with good long straight grain, and spruce has a good strength to weight ratio. In my mid-50s, however, I am saddened by the constant erosion of opportunities for mid-life retraining and what appears to be a re-focussing on the younger members of society, not just as stated here but also applicable to that other traditional retraining route, the Open University. I came away feeling that it would be the perfect place to learn new skills for retirement projects, but also those interested in changing careers in mid-life. He modified the sheer line slightly and changed the design of the thwarts and ribs in line with a similar canoe built by Luke Browne. Boat building skills still existed among those with a lifetime of experience, but with the demise of the traditional apprenticeship there were few ways of ensuring that entrenched skills, learnt over generations, were passed on. When riveting traditional clinker boats, we still use tools such as a dolly, rove punch and ball peen hammer. It might already be possible to shape parts of what is known as the “rabbet”; the angled groove in the backbone structure into which the edge of the first plank or “garboard” sits and also into which the ends of the planks sit in the bow. The builder must then determine whether the lines prescribed by the battens are “fair”, that is smooth in form. The sheer plank is often wider than the norm to allow for the subsequent fitting of a rubbing strip which would otherwise make the sheer plank look oddly narrow. They are also fitted with knees to help braces them in position and for additional strengthening of the hull. To form the blade end, we take two shorter pieces of timber of the same dimension, 2” square again and glue these onto the blade end of the loom, which in this simple form, could be either end. The templates shapes are transferred to the stock, usually onto the sides of the cheeks first, after which they are cut to shape on a band saw.
Using a spar gauge, one first marks the faces for removal of the corners, to leave an octagonal shape. Spruce and western red cedar are also useful for planking when constructing light weight boats. A cynical side of me suspects that the easily available grants for youngsters might be a factor here. Put it this way, i’m in my mid-40s, and would love to attend a course at some point in my later life when time allows! When restoring a traditionally built carvel boat, one generally uses traditional caulking irons for the job to drive in the caulking medium. It may be that battens need to be unfastened in refastened to give a pleasing look or to simplify planking.
The patterns for the face of the blade is then transferred to the blank and again cut on the band saw. Durability, weight, grain structure and resistance to wear and tear are key attributes that one might consider when selecting timber for boat building.
When producing oars, masts and spars, one generally marks lines using a traditional spar gauge, but material can be removed quickly with either a modern power plane or a traditional draw-knife. In certain areas of the hull, determined by the shape and curvature at various points, the boat may be easier planked by using narrower or wider planks. If building in a very traditional manner, nails will have been placed into the holes drilled in the planks earlier and the nails will be driven through the timbers as they are tightly bent into the hull.
Plywood is used for modern glued construction because it is structurally stable and durable.
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The nails would then be turned into rivets with the addition of small conical washers called “roves”.
Our emphasis is on the practical and students expend less than 10 of their time in the boat building academy. It is important that the garboard fits the rabbet accurately, to keep out water, but also any errors or unfairness in its shape may dramatically affect the overall look of finished hull. Once the garboard is fitted, possibly with some bedding compound, a traditional oil based mastic possibly and fixed with copper rivets, the remainder of the planks can be fit.



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